Botryococcus Physiology

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The Physiology of Botryococcus

Botryococcus is a unicellular, eukaryotic algae that is of great importance to the Biofuel movement because of its capability to produce high amounts of a hydrocarbon botryococcene, an unbranched isoprenoid triterpene. This hydrocarbon is hydrophobic, making it highly amenable to the production of fuels.


Growth of Botryococcus is relatively slow compared to other types of algae being investigated for biofuel production. However, this slow growth is not due to an "intrinsically slow metablism," but rather due to Botryococcus's production of "energetically expensive compounds." [1]

Botryococcus has three physiological states, characterized by their hydrocarbon content, indicated by color: 1. Green Active State - "contain a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of the general formula CnH2n-2" 2. Brown Resting State - "contain a high concentration of a nearly pure (90 per cent) hydrocarbon botryococcene" 3. Large Green - show very little synthesis of hydrocarbons [2]


"Botryococcus, a colonial member of the Chlorophyceae is of cosmopolitan distribution in the phytoplankton of lakes and pools, often in such abundance that the cast-up colonies may form extensive rubbery deposits on shores. Fossil material of this species is reported in formations ranging from Palaeozoic to Recent, and is considered an important constituent of certain oily deposits such as the Boghead Coals. (Blackburn and Temperley, 1936; Traverse, 1955)" [3]

Properties of Botryococcene

The oil content of Botryococcus varies with the state of the colony. "Active state colonies contained a predominance of straight-chain olefins." "Idle state colonies contained botryococcenes." The chloroplast of resting state cells contains fewer thylakoids and larger relative numbers of plastoglobuli than the chloroplast of active state cells maintained under favorable growth conditions. [4]


  1. Fred R. Wolf, Esther K. Nemethy, Jonathan H. Blanding, James A. Bassham, Biosynthesis of unusual acyclic isoprenoids in the Alga Botryococcus braunii, Phytochemistry, Volume 24, Issue 4, 1985, Pages 733-737, ISSN 0031-9422,
  2. A.C. Brown, B.A. Knights, Elsie Conway, Hydrocarbon content and its relationship to physiological state in the green alga Botryococcus braunii, Phytochemistry, Volume 8, Issue 3, March 1969, Pages 543-547, ISSN 0031-9422, (
  3. Belcher, J. H. (1967), Notes on the Physiology of Botryococcus braunii Kützing. Archiv für Mikrobiologie, 1968, Volume 61, Number 4, Page 335.
  4. [4] Wolf, F. R. and Cox, E. R. (1981), ULTRASTRUCTURE OF ACTIVE AND RESTING COLONIES OF BOTRYOCOCCUS BRAUNII (CHLOROPHYCEAE). Journal of Phycology, 17: 395–405. doi: 10.1111/j.1529-8817.1981.tb00868.x